2019 Belmont Stakes Betting Trends with Expert Wagering Analysis
Over the last 35 years or so, it has been quite common that I have felt like picking the winner in the Belmont was going to be easy. And there have just been three times that it has actually turned out that way. Coincidentally, all three of those horses were trained by Bob Baffert - Point Given was a stone-cold lock back in his day, and I was extremely confident about both American Pharoah and Justify. Those are the good stories. But more often there have been horses that I really liked who have fallen short. Silver Charm seemed like he was in good shape. It seemed impossible that Big Brown would be beat. And on and on. This is a tough race to handicap successfully.
This year we really don't have a horse that feels like a lock, which is both a positive and a negative from a handicapping perspective - we'll get a better price, but it's tough to know which horse to choose. The distance is a question for every horse in the race each year, we have fresh horses running into tired ones, and the endless stretch at Belmont is a twist that changes things up. To help make sense of the race, here are some Belmont trends that may be useful:
We always see new horses joining the Triple Crown train at the last stop, and a lot of them can be very tempting. They seem fresh. And when other horses feel worn down by the earlier races, that can be hard to pass by. But the truth is that experience in an earlier Triple Crown race is almost a requirement in this race. Over the last 25 years, 19 winners of the Belmont have run in at least one prior Triple Crown race. There is a simple reason that explains this better than anything else - the best horses are aimed at the Derby, so if a horse couldn't get into that race, and wasn't ready for the Preakness, then it is a relatively rare case that it will be ready for this huge challenge. There is a big distinction, though - not every horse has to be Justify or something close in their earlier Triple Crown appearances. In fact, a lot of Belmont winners have bombed in their earlier appearance. In 2017, Tapwrit was a dismal sixth in the Derby before his Belmont score, and the year before Creator had been 13th in Kentucky. What matters is that they were good enough to make an earlier race, not that they had a good day once they got there.
There aren't many patsies when we look at the six horses over the last 25 years who won the Belmont in their first Triple Crown appearance, either. Rags to Riches was a wildly talented horse, but she was a filly, so instead of running in the Derby she had run, and dominated, in the Kentucky Oaks the day before. Tonalist was a very talented horse who would likely have been a threat in the Derby if a lung infection hadn't altered the course of his spring. Drosselmeyer had aimed for the Derby but fell short of making the field. He later won the Breeders' Cup Classic, though, so he was no Belmont fluke. And Sarava, Da' Tara and Ruler on Ice were all long shots who benefited from races that went a little crazy, and all were just in the right place at the right time. There is no common thread between those six winners, and no potential fresh horses this year have the class of the three strong horses in that group of winners. In general, then, it is a good idea to stick to the colts with some experience.
We don't see too many iron horses - for good reason
Back in the day, we used to see a many more iron horses - colts that would run in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Last year we had only two - Triple Crown winner Justify, and Bravazo. And unless something really unexpected happens, that is twice as many as we are going to see this year - Preakness winner War of Will is the only horse aiming to run in all three legs. I miss those olden days, but they are likely gone never to return. There is a good reason for this - it's extremely hard to run in all three races and still win the Belmont. Last year Justify became just the third horse in the last 15 years to win the Belmont in their third Triple Crown appearance. Another was, of course, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. And the other was Afleet Alex, who should have won the Triple Crown as well but was the victim of a ride so bad in the Kentucky Derby by Jeremy Rose that I still can't say his name without swearing. The other 12 winners of the Belmont in the last 15 years have skipped at least one leg of the Triple Crown.
While this is a pretty compelling trend at first glance, we can't attach too much significance to it. The one iron horse will match 2015, and there were just two in each of the three years in between. So, we are dealing with a small sample size here.
Longshots pay at Big Sandy
Last year Justify paid a miniscule $3.60 to win, but that has been far from the norm in this race. You can see some serious prices here. In the last 22 years, there have been seven horses who have won at prices of 25/1 or higher. Some basic understanding of odds would tell you that the expectation would be for less than one horse at odds that big to win over 22 years. Long shots really shine in this race. And that makes sense - the distance is brutal, so things can really get crazy. We have no idea how the horses will handle the race until they do it - they have never done anything close to this before, and most will never do it again. The biggest payday was Sarava, who paid off at 70/1, but there have been many other big prices as well. You can't let long odds scare you off if you like a horse. Even horses that aren't serious long shots can pay well - Creator won at 16/1 three years ago, even though he made solid sense on paper. On the other hand, favorites have done really poorly here, with Justify becoming just the fourth to win the race in the same 22-year stretch. Favorites typically win a third of races, so expectations would be for about twice as many winning favorites.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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